I went to see “Home”, a Dreamworks film, with my sister last week. It’s about a girl, called Tip, (voiced by Rihanna) who immigrated to the United States with her mother (voiced by Jennifer Lopez) from Barbados, and an alien, named Oh, (voiced by Jim Parsons) that invades the US with the rest of his alien race. Together, Tip and Oh try to find Tip’s mother, Lucy, and also save Earth from another group of aliens that wants to destroy it (thanks to a mix-up by Oh). The movie is definitely geared towards small kids, and my sister and I were the only people in the theater over the age of six without kids. There were only three families in the theater, not including my sister and myself. The film was decent and the small kids in the theater were definitely very excited about it. We went to the AMC attached to Rosedale Mall; tickets were maybe $8.50 and no one pressured us, or even suggested to us, that we buy snacks. I think that I would have talked about the film a bit more had I seen it at home, but the overall experience was just a standard movie-going experience for me. I don’t know if the rest of the audience cried, but I definitely did at one point because I am a sucker for Dreamworks emotional moments.
I think that “Home” was really great in having Tip be an immigrant from Barbados; you don’t really get films about immigrant families and Tip makes a point to talk about how it was hard trying to fit in at her new school. She has brown skin and tight curls, things that you don’t typically see in most animated films, regardless of which production company made them. At one point in the film, Tip’s mother explicitly calls her daughter’s skin “beautiful”, which was just amazing to hear. It’s one thing to make a main character of color, but it’s something else to point it out in a way that doesn’t single her out as an exception. She was just describing her daughter and it’s powerful, especially since this film is marketed towards young audiences. Giving this message that brown skin is beautiful to young children is so important.
I think that this validation is also important because, with white supremacy, “the woman to be looked at and desired is ‘white'” (hooks 118), though this is not to say that we should be putting women of color into films and shows simply to be looked at. I think that making a point to say that Tip’s skin is beautiful is to poke a hole in the idea that the only skin color that should be desired is white skin. It’s an attempt, though it is not a big gesture (and it’s the only comment of its kind in the whole film) and I do think that Dreamworks could have done a better job. Unlike some films, Tip’s character was not there to “enhance and maintain white womanhood” (hooks 119); while white people were present in the film, humans overall were not a large portion of the film, and Tip and her mother had the most lines (both women of color).
Because this is a children’s movie, Tip is not hypersexual or seen as a threat based on her skin color and the fact that she is a young woman (Hollinger 194); she had a body shape that was not the standard hourglass figure you see in animated films (and in live-action films, as well). I think that Dreamworks is actually pretty good about getting different body types and facial structures into their characters, particularly with their women, something that Disney/Pixar fails to do. I mean, look at “Frozen”. All both of the sisters and the mother had the same exact face, just different hair colors. She has a great dynamic with her mother and you get to see that through a few home videos that Tip saved on her phone.
I was a bit disappointed, however. It was wonderful having Tip as a lead, but I still felt like the movie centered more around Oh trying to save Earth. Maybe Dreamworks didn’t think a movie about a girl of color trying to find her mother would sell as many tickets, so they added an overpowering element about an alien realizing that his uniqueness was okay and him saving the world from mass destruction. I think that Tip’s story would have been just fine on its own, but maybe I’m just optimistic about what people will go see (and maybe I just don’t really like Jim Parsons as an actor because I really don’t like “Big Bang Theory”, so I guess I’m a bit biased).
The aliens were cool and all, but I think that the movie could have been better, had the film centered solely on Tip and her journey. The ideas “you should be unique” and “being different is okay” are great and should definitely be shared with kids, but I think it’s weird that those messages always come from white kids who are nerdy (as if that’s weird or something) and aliens (which we don’t even know if they exist or not). That sounds more like you can be unique and different if you’re either a) white or b) not from Earth. These messages that we want children to hear (and some adults, let’s be honest) need to come from more than just white kids; Tip doesn’t have to accept herself on the trip. She’s smart, inventive, and fun, but she doesn’t have to come to the realization that being unique is okay because she already accepts who she is. I think it would have been much more powerful to see Tip go on a journey to both accept who she is in the face of oppression and to find her mom. We get the tiniest look at her feeling out of place when she tells Oh that she had a hard time fitting in at school, but that’s it. It’s never talked about again. We don’t even hear that much about her being an immigrant, besides, as stated before, her not fitting in and the overall experience just being difficult. We do get a snippet of a video where she and her mom are experiencing snow for the first time, which is cute, but it doesn’t do much for talking about what it’s like to uproot your whole life and move somewhere else.
Does Dreamworks hit the representation mark with “Home”? In the context of all the movies they’ve released, absolutely not. I couldn’t even list the last movie they made that had a person of color as a main character. Have they even ever done that? Why is it so hard for movies of any sort to have characters of color take the lead? Why did Dreamworks feel like they had to include a plot about aliens? Why was Tip’s story not enough? For kids, both white and of color, Tip is so important. Representation is important for everyone. If we continue to make movies with primarily white casts and white leads, how are we ever going to teach people that people of color matter? Kids can’t continue to grow up without proper representation. “Home” is an okay start, but if we don’t have any more characters like Tip, how can production companies say that they did their best? According to this website, “Home” made $54 million opening weekend; families rushed to the theaters to see this movie. If we know that animated features tend to bring families running to theaters, why wouldn’t we make more animated features with people of color as lead roles? It’s a great place to start adding more representation. Granted, we should have more representation everywhere, but at least try to start doing it in places where young viewers will be. This way, they can grow up with it and expect that this is how it’ll be.
This movie is still pretty cute, so if you’re in the mood for something adorable with fun music, you should probably see “Home”. Even if you aren’t in the mood for it, go support the film! Show production companies that we want more characters like Tip!